Jake Norton and David Morton set out for India with a mission to follow the Ganges from its source at the Gangotri Glacier to its outlet at the world’s largest delta at the Bay of Bengal. Their mission flowed from a desire to better understand the relationship between a dramatically growing population and the crisis of securing clean, drinkable water for all. Now that Norton and Morton have returned from India, they have been describing their cultural experiences and impressions of the subcontinent. As Norton explains in his latest recap, the phenomenon of Indian traffic was one of the most indelible memories of the trip. —LYA Editor
Words and Images by Jake Norton
Inches, maybe only millimeters, were all that separated the hard steel of his bumper from the kid. He was maybe seven or eight, slight in build and dressed in school clothes. Had he been hit, he would’ve been dead, no question. But instead, he didn’t even flinch; he just continued weaving his way through four lanes of traffic thick with buses and lorries and tempos and rickshaws, all clanging bells and blaring horns. The driver, squinting through a windshield choked with decals of Shiva and awash with dangling Mallas, kept moving, the near-catastrophe not seeming to register at all.
Indian traffic is a phenomenon. I don’t know how it works, but somehow it does. The roads are tattered; gaping potholes fit to shred a tire abound. Lanes are merely a suggestion, with vehicles weaving across lines with abandon. Laborers push handcarts past camel- and horse-drawn wagons. Elderly men with flowing kurtas, bobbing turbans, or tight-fit skullcaps ride ancient bikes and hug the shoulder, weaving around goats and chickens and children. Women in immaculate saris shuffle along, water jug on one hip and a young child on the other. One lane is covered with a farmer’s rice harvest waiting to be shucked; moments later, the opposite side is requisitioned by an impromptu herd of lethargic sacred cows, chewing cud with bulging bellies. And, everywhere, the ubiquitous behemoth of the Indian road: the Tata. Massive and domineering, Tata trucks–intricately bejeweled with their driver’s personal panache– ply the road and wait for no one, the signature deedal-deedal-deedal-dee-da of their air horns pounding the airwaves.
Amidst the chaos, accidents are surprisingly few. We’ve been on the Indian roads – highway, rural, and everything in between – for weeks now. We’ve seen countless close calls that would lock brakes and elicit shrieks back home – and likely result in bent bumpers and torn tempers – but not here. Indian traffic literally pours through the streets, a whitewater of vehicles ripping like Ganga water through the canyons of Gangotri, swirling over, around, and between obstacles but never stopping, always rushing onward in a symphony of sight, sound, and motion.
And so we flow. We follow the great river, flowing through traffic like the water by our sides, onward and downward along the Ganga.
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